Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror


Sometimes the old school is the best school, as John Whalen demonstrates with this enticingly evocative tale of the Romanian mountains and one Preston Wynat, a writer struggling with writer's block. You see, he wishes to research the true story of Vlad Tepes, the man who may have inspired the story of Dracula. Dear Preston -- he's such a stictler for accuracy in his prose. If only he and his wife could find someone who knew something about the topic...


(Part One of Two)

By John M. Whalen
About the author

"T  HE DAMNED IMPERTINENCE,” Preston Wynant sputtered, as he slammed the trunk closed.

He had hired the car in Bran, where they had disembarked from the train. The Stutz now sat on the side of a road in the early evening in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire. He had opened the trunk to get the spare, only to find it had not been properly filled with air.

He looked around the dark, lonely Romanian countryside. There was a full moon rising and stars, so he could see the silvery landscape clearly. The road they had been traveling appeared deserted, and only barren fields lay on either side.

He went back inside the car, where Vivian sat sulking, as she had all through their vacation.

“I don’t know why we came here,” she said. “This place is desolate.”

“It’s the last leg of the journey,” he said. “We’d be there if not for that blasted tire.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

Preston felt the pressure building up in his head -- the headache he always got when Vivian was like this.

“You know perfectly well why we came,” he said. “Thought it would do both of us some good. We’ve been through a rough patch the last year. Thought this would help.”

“But it hasn’t,” she said. “Traveling by ship and train and car. Coming all this way. and for what? Just so you could research your damn novel.”

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before,” he said. “Don’t you find that exciting?”

“A dress ball in a fancy hotel in Paris, a bull fight in Spain, a ride down the Canals of Venice would be exciting, not this endless traipsing about. And now look, we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. We might as well have stayed home where you could write your damn silly little books and I could at least be with my friends.”

“I couldn’t very well write a damn with you constantly nagging and crying that you have nothing to do. Started doubting that my latest idea had any validity at all. Damn thing may be ruined.”

“Oh, who cares about your damn stories.”

“People do, Vivian. People care a lot. My publisher cares. He wants that next volume by the end of the year and at the rate I’m going, I’ll never have it in time.”

Preston suddenly became aware of the sound of a motor behind him. He turned and saw a pair of headlights approaching. As they got closer he could see the lights belonged to a long black Rolls Royce. The black hood and fenders gleamed under the moonlight. It pulled up next to his Stutz. Preston could see an aristocratic man with jet black hair and dark piercing eyes looking at them though the rear side window. He spoke some words in Romanian. His voice was deep and sonorous.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Preston hollered back through the window.

“Ah, you are English,” the man said. “I said may I offer you some assistance?”

“Thank you,” Preston said. He explained about the tire.

“Let me take you to the next village,” the man said. “Verloff is only fifteen kilometers away. If you’ll permit me, my driver can take your spare along and arrange to have a mechanic come back for your car. If you like, we can transfer your luggage to my car.”

“That would be splendid,” Vivian said.

She opened her door and walked around the car, while Preston climbed out and stood watching her, somewhat irritated at the suddenness of her actions. She could see that she was still angry.

The uniformed driver of the black sedan got out and went around to the trunk of his Stutz.

“Key, sir?” he man said. He was a very large man with huge shoulders and a broad handlebar moustache.

“Come inside,” the man in the back of the sedan said. “Ladislas will take care of your tire and portmanteau.”

Preston and Vivian sat across from their rescuer, in seats facing the rear of the limousine. The man offered his hand to Preston.

“I am Count Moravic,” he said.

Preston shook his hand. The man’s hand was oddly cold and somehow lifeless when he clasped it. But his eyes were another matter. The moonlight shining through window revealed dark grey irises that were powerful and magnetic. Preston found himself staring into them, unable to look away. When the man turned his eyes to look at Vivian, Preston felt as though he were being released from some strange gripping force. The count took Vivian’s hand and stared deep into her eyes, and Preston could see the magnetic effect of those eyes was even more powerful on her.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” the count said.

Vivian sat there almost spellbound, as he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it.

“We’re so lucky you happened along,” Vivian said breathlessly.

The driver got in behind the wheel after transferring Preston’s spare to the trunk of the car and they drove on down the road. Preston smelled the rich aroma of the leather upholstery, felt the smoothness of the ride over the rough country road, heard the soft thrum of the powerful engine as they drove along.

“This is a little traveled road,” the count said. “Sometimes there is not a car or wagon for a whole day. In this part of the world, vehicles like ours are very few.”

“That’s part of the charm of your country,” Vivian said.

Preston looked at her in amazement. A moment ago she was cursing the place.

“May I ask what brings you to our part of the world?” the count asked him.

“A vacation,” Preston said. “And an opportunity to do some research. We’ve come all the way from London to see Romania for ourselves.”

“Research? What sort of research?”

“For a novel. I’m a writer.”

“Really. How fascinating. What kind of novels do you write?”

“Historical fiction. I’m in the middle of a series of books about a Viking sailor named Elrick. He was shipwrecked off the coast of India in the first volume and I’m chronicling his adventures as he treks his way back to Norway.”

“How very interesting.”

“It’s been a successful series until now. I was in the middle of the fifth volume concerning Elrick’s travels through Romania and his meeting with Vlad the Impaler.”

“Ah! Dracula!”

“Well, that’s the popularized version of the historical person. As I’m sure you know, the real Vlad had little to do with the Vampire myth made so famous by another writer.”

The count looked at him quizzically. “You seem so sure of that,” he said.

“Really, Count Moravic. Surely no one here believes in creatures that live on the blood of other humans. Creatures that live hundreds of years and can only be killed by a stake through the heart or a silver bullet. Who cast no reflection in mirrors. That sort of rot.”

“To the contrary, Mr. Wynant, I can assure you that there are many people living here in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains who do believe it. Even to this day.”

“Well, I suppose superstitions are hard to dispel,” Preston said. “But nevertheless, my book will focus on the historical facts that are known of Vlad. To my way of thinking, Vlad was a far more hideous monster than Dracula. It’s estimated that in the brief six years of his reign he killed nearly 100,000 people by impalement -- a form of execution more terrible than most people realize. He learned the practice from the Turks. They used long stakes with rounded ends and pierced their victims from anus to mouth. Vlad improved on their method by applying grease to the end of the stake so as not to disturb any inner organs as the stake was inserted. Thus suffering was prolonged.”

“My God! Preston,” Vivian said. “Must you?”

“Sorry, dear,” Preston said. “I got carried away I forgot how you feel about these subjects. Forgive me.”

“You seem to have done quite a bit of research already, Mr. Wynant,” Count Moravic said.

“All that is readily available in books. But what I need is a feel for the man.”

“He doesn’t sound like a man,” Vivian said. “More like a monster.”

“Quite right,” Count Moravic said. “But one must contemplate what could have turned a man into such a monster.”

“My theory,” Preston said, “is that it was due to those years as a child when he was held hostage by the Turks in Adrianople The Sultan kept him and his brother Radu prisoner while their father returned to Wallachia to procure more young boys for the Sultan’s army and more tribute for the Ottoman Empire. Who knows what may have befallen an eleven year old boy at the hands of the Sultan?”

Preston looked up and suddenly noticed the strange, almost sad gaze in the count’s eyes.

“Yes,” the count said. “Who knows what may have befallen him.”

“The way you said that, Count Moravic,” Vivian said. “You almost make me feel sorry for him.”

“No madam,” the count said. “Do not pity him. It was never pity that he wanted from this world.”

“What then?”

The count gazed deeper into the woman’s eyes.

“What do any of us want?” he said.

There was a long silence and then the count turned to Preston.

“Your book should make fascinating reading,” he said.

“If I ever get it finished. For the first time, I’ve had to stop midstream. Had to get away from it.”

“It’s my fault, according to him,” Vivian chimed in. “I bother him too much. Interfere with his concentration.”

“Now, Vivian, please,” Preston said. “It isn’t that, count. It’s something else. I’m having trouble getting the details, the facts of that period of history straight. Writing a novel requires authentic detail. In my case, as a writer, authenticity has become a hallmark of my work. I’ve long since found that using the usual reference texts just isn’t sufficient. They don’t inspire me the way I need to be inspired for a project like this.”

“But if I didn’t hound you to take me places, you might be finished by now,” Vivian said. “Tell the count the truth.”

“And so you have come all the way here to Romania, Mr. Wynant, seeking the inspiration you need,” Count Moravic said.

“And what a horrid long journey it has been,” Vivian said.

“Precisely, Count,” Preston said, ignoring his wife’s complaint. “Field research. I thought that if I came here, visited the places where Vlad fought his battles, found the sites where he impaled his victims, saw the castle where he lived, it might give me the insights I need to finish the book.”

“Then it is providential that we have met,” the count said. “For you see, I live in that very castle you seek. It is called Castle Moravic now, but in the old days it was known as Castle Dracula. It was built by the forced labor of the Boyars, the noble families of Wallachia.”

“My God! You don’t say so?” Preston said. “I know the story well. Easter Sunday, 1456. Vlad invited the Boyars to dine in a palace in Tirgoviste. While they were eating, he had his soldiers capture the old and infirm and impaled them beyond the city walls for all to see. He then marched the rest 50 miles to rebuild a fortress that became known as Castle Dracula.”

“How is it you live there, Count Moravic?” Vivian asked.

“I am -- I’m most reluctant to reveal it -- distant descendant of Vlad Basarab, other wise known as Vlad the Impaler.”

There was a moment of awkward silence.

“Please,” the count said with a wave of his hand, “rest assured, I share none of the strange tendencies of my ancestors. I remain in the castle only because I am trapped there, so to speak.”

“Trapped?” Preston said.

“The life of a Romanian nobleman in the first decade of the twentieth century, offers little options. The family treasure has long since been dissipated, and all that is left is the castle and the land surrounding it. I’m afraid I’m not fit for any occupation. So I remain lord of the manor, as they say.”

“That’s rather sad,” Vivian said, her fleeting anxiety suddenly vanished. “Poetic, in fact.”

“I insist that you be my guests this evening,” the count said. “I can show you some interesting artifacts, Mr. Wynant, I’m sure you will find very interesting and useful for your purposes.”

“I wouldn’t dream of imposing in that manner,” Preston said. “There must be a hotel in Verloff.”

“There is indeed a hotel, but there is really no need.”

Preston turned and looked through the car’s windshield and saw some lights ahead.

“Is that Verloff?” he asked.


“Then please. I insist you drop us at the hotel. Later, perhaps tomorrow, we can come to your home for a visit.”

“If you won’t accept my hospitality and stay the night, then at least come for dinner. The food at the hotel is very poor. I’ll send the car for you.”

“What do you say, Vivian?” Preston asked. “You’ve been complaining about the lack of interesting things to do.”

“That would be lovely,” she said, gazing intently at the count.

The count dropped them at the Hotel Verloff, helped them obtain rooms, and then left them. But not before once again taking Vivian’s hand and kissing it, while looking deep into her eyes.

“Until this evening,” he said. “I’ll send the car at nine.”

He shook Preston’s hand perfunctorily and went out to the car. As they followed the innkeeper up the stairs to their room, Vivian turned to look back at the lobby doorway.

“He is a fascinating man, isn’t he?” she said half to herself.

Preston scowled.

“You certainly seem to find him so.”

“And so should you. He seems to be the man you came here to meet without even knowing it.”

“Yes,” Preston mused. “Strange coincidence running into him this way.”

Next...Part Two (of Two): The Price

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The story is copyright by John Whalen. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)